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Lean-Agile: Feedback early, often and center stage at Getty Images

April 3, 2012 | By Jeff Oberlander | By Devs, For Devs, Technology, What We're Working On

Recently, I discussed how the combination of both Lean and Agile principles really need to coexist together for complete enterprise success.  I first focused on how “Lean” boils down to maximizing flow of business value.  Now, let’s talk about the “Agile” part of the equation, which can also boil down to a primary element – feedback.  Feedback early, feedback often and feedback direct.

Keeping things moving in the system and getting them out the door is important, but getting it right for the customer and evolving market is the obvious other half of the equation.  This is the basis for our use of Agile principles, and here’s how feedback is center stage in Getty Images technology.

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(Photo by Freudenthal Verhagen/Stone+/Getty Images, 200069670-001)

First, let’s start with the cost of work in a system without feedback.

What happens if you push a feature, or worse, a whole new product through the development system and it isn’t what the customer or business stakeholder wanted, needed or thought they were getting?  You lose  – not only your investment in development time, but in business revenue of what is missing or wrong from that point forward.  You lose twice. What if you build a new product or set of features and the market changes  (for example, subscriptions become the way customers want to buy your product), but you continue to build based on the expectations and conditions six months ago?  You lose twice again.

Some fundamental Agile practices can prevent these scenarios from occurring.

Agile tells us to deliver working software frequently – basically reduce your window of change to as small as possible to get the customer feedback as soon as possible. At Getty, we hold weekly reviews of work completed with business stakeholders to ensure we’ve met their expectations on the latest, small increment of work.  If we haven’t, well, our window of lost time is minimized. We get to course correct literally all the time. We also add customer interaction tracking to any feature we put out the door now, so we get instant feedback on how and what is being used.

These feedback channels coupled with the small increments of work, allow our products to change with the customers and the market at nearly the same time.

Agile also tells us that business people must work together daily throughout the project. Physically, we tear down walls, cubes and barriers to bring people together. In the past three years, Getty Images in Seattle has transformed from an office building of cubicles to a sea of low, open desks where you can look from one end of the building to the other and see everyone.

If you can solve something by talking face to face, do it.  If you can avoid that email, avoid that ticketing system, avoid that document in lieu of real-world dialog – do it.  It’s all a form of getting feedback to the right source, in the least amount of time possible.

The feedback principles work in the actual software development process arena, too.  We use pair programming to catch bugs right as they are written.  We favor automated tests that run as soon as code is written, and continuously thereafter.  If a bug is introduced, a test will fail and the developers are immediately notified.  This is in contrast to the older methods of using people to go “searching” for bugs long after the code has been written.  We use continuous integration to mix the local changes into the bigger enterprise system on a daily basis.  In this way, if two systems become mismatched, we find it the same day, instead of waiting days and weeks at a time.  These are all ways we try to make the feedback loops in everything we do as short as absolutely possible – with the ultimate goal of “real-time” feedback.

The principles of Lean and Agile are closely related and often intertwined.  Our use of both has evolved from our own understanding of what works in our environment and with our business and customers – our market.

To maximize the flow of business value, you have to amplify feedback all along the way to ensure we will always be meeting the business needs – thus, ensuring that the end result is indeed, “business value”.  This is Lean-Agile.

 

Seattle office Getty Images

Our new Getty Images Seattle office has an open floorplan that’s great for collaboration — and face-to-face conversation. (Photo by Getty Images)

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  • http://fireundereverybutt.com Todd Clarke

    Jeff,
    Good read. For me, lately, the big thing is to get people to commit…and I think this is made easier by the agile process. People can really see things much better in small iterations and get real feedback as to the process and quality of delivery. This helps in getting people to commit based on a better view of the world.
    -Todd